Local History by Seán Beattie


Robbie Burns and Culdaff connection

According to local folklore Robbie Burns had a relation who  taught in a school at Cloncha near the old monastic site. I am trying to research relations of Burns and I have located the foundations of the Hibernian Sunday School Society building at Cloncha. It was a  landmark for fisherman and Bunagee harbour can be clearly seen from the site. The building is gone but a strong foundation remains with clean-cut building stones. I presume this is where he taught. I visited Cairnryan in Scotland recently but intend to travel to the Burns Centre outside Ayr for more information.

There were 7 schools run by the Society in Culdaff parish, with others in surrounding parishes.They were the fore runners of the national school system of 1831. Some schools had 50 pupils. There were about 50 such schools in the county. William  Wallace showed me the site of one of the schools at Redford which is a roofed old barn near the old rectory. His great-grandfather attended here in the early 1800s. Rev Chichester was involved in promoting the school. The Society was the first to provide basic elementary education on a nation scale. The schools were more successful in the north west of Ireland but their impact in Donegal was significant – a fact ignored by social historians.

All denominations attended and the Bible was the main reading text. The 3r’s were also taught. I have been in the Royal Irish Academy and National Library last week looking up old reports from 1809. I hope to travel to the British Library next week to do more research for an article in Donegal Annual 2015.

Discipline was progressive. Premiums were offered for good behaviour but corporal punishment was probably on the cards.

On a different subject, I noticed two headstones in Bocan Catholic church recently with the name of the local landlord, George Young in 1819. He erected a headstone over two servants who were drowned off Bucker’s Rock off the shore, They were Denis Crumlisk and David Platt (probably from Malin).The finely engraved stone came from Dunmore.  It tells us something about the relationship between landlords and servants in the early 1800s. As far as I recall, a Catholic priest was drowned here in 1846 (but I need to recheck dates in Mrs. Harvey’s diary).


  1. mogue1ohara

    Thanks for this most interesting information, Sean, and I look forward to hearing more from you future researches. Aidan O’Hara

    • Comment by post author


      Sorry for delay in replying

      I was working on a new book on Inishtrahull and had a lot of info on the school there but I ran into difficulties with the publisher.

      I hope to have it all online some time this year. Thanks to the internet, this is possible.

  2. Enjoyed this article. A good excuse for celebrating Burns Night locally.

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